Founder's syndrome (also founderitis) is a popular term for a difficulty faced by organizations where one or more founders maintain disproportionate power and influence following the effective initial establishment of the project, leading to a wide range of problems for both the organization and those involved in it. The passion and charisma of the founder or founders, which was such an important reason for the successful establishment of the organization, becomes a limiting and destructive force, rather than the creative and productive one it was in the early stages. It occurs in both non-profit and for-profit organizations. It may simply limit the further growth and success of the project, may lead to bitter factionalism and divisions as the scale of demands made on the organization increases, or may result in failure. There are recognised and proven ways in which a founder or organization can respond and grow beyond this situation.
An organization typically expresses many of the following symptoms:
- The organization is strongly identified with the person or personality of the founder.
- The founder makes all decisions, big and small, without a formal process or input from others. Decisions are made in crisis mode, with little forward planning. Staff meetings are held generally to rally the troops, get status reports, and assign tasks. There is little meaningful strategic development, or shared executive agreement on objectives with limited or a complete lack of professional development. Typically, there is little organizational infrastructure in place, and what is there is not used correctly. There is no succession plan.
- Key staff and board members are typically selected by the founder and are often friends and colleagues of the founder. Their role is to support the founder, rather than to lead the mission. Staff may be chosen due to their personal loyalty to the founder rather than skills, organizational fit, or experience. Board members may be under-qualified, under-informed or intimidated and will typically be unable to answer basic questions without checking first.
- Professionally trained and talented recruits, often recruited to resolve difficulties in the organization, find that they are not able to contribute in an effective and professional way.
- The founder responds to increasingly challenging issues by accentuating the above, leading to further difficulties. Anyone who challenges this cycle will be treated as a disruptive influence and will be ignored, ridiculed or removed. The working environment will be increasingly difficult with decreasing public trust. The organization becomes increasingly reactive, rather than proactive. Alternatively, the founder or the board may recognise the issue and take effective action to move beyond it as outlined below.
Coping with founder's syndrome requires discussion of the problem, a plan of action, and interventions by the founder, the board and or by others involved in the organization. The objective of the plan should be to allow the organization to make a successful transition to a mature organizational model without damage to either the organization itself or the individuals concerned.
- Kleibrink, Maryll (December 2004). "Diagnosis: Founderitis". Executive Update. ASAE. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
- Adler, Carlye (8 May 2007). "Time to replace yourself". CNN Money. CNN. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
- "Surviving Founder's Syndrome". National Resources Centre. Retrieved 2008-11-22.
- "Founder's Syndrome? Who me?". Help4NonProfits. Retrieved 2008-11-22.
- "Founder's Syndrome: How Corporations Suffer -- and Can Recover". Free Management Library. Retrieved 2008-11-23.